America, You First

America you are a godless Peter Pan
A thug lobster with one big claw
A homeboy who sells his pals for popcorn
You should be locked up like a pigeon in a Mustang

Who can flirt with the magnitude
Of oranges and mountains
Against all benediction
And fields of crow testament
Stabs at us all like an airplane penis

Somewhere God grows an ox for you
To sacrifice to license plates and loneliness
How awful the beacon itches
Jumping around like eye water
Out of salvation on the closed path
A man may take an honorary degree
From tidal bore and killdeer
A woman surf hound the perverse knot
Unfolding like a grand piano
More Arabic than white on white
And your mailbox God still won’t notice

And what an odd home your Coke can
Idea of Florida dog days in heaven
Waving from the high shelf of church

Digesting your breakfast under
A hailstorm of dimples
Maybe another book of blank checks
Will do it will put the ants
Back in the basement
Call up in a Tibetan spring
Those raspers those clangers
Full of sour meat
In training for the dirt of life
Making their passage
From the crows nest to the heart
Taping their glands to the spine
Gone now and unkillable
As the desert floor

In a green plum house
Better than our white eyes
Elders of my generation
Went to war for you
Learning the true costs

Brother Grady Smith
Sat with me over a long dinner
Confided how he saved
His white sargeant’s sorry ss
From fragging two days
Before his hitch was up
Said he thought ten percent
Of the 58,220 names on the long black wall
Were Americans killed intentionally
By other Americans
And proud atheist Cpl. Pat Tillman
Calls from beyond Kandahar
To say…what…do you think

In the bump and stomp
Of five hundred river miles
Nothing fades nothing falters
America your speed boat
Filled with gin and oysters
Still skims easily over the waves

Maybe it’s time to let the sad painted bird go
Time to let him wear new costumes
Like an amphetamine widow
Thump against the TV train windows
Hang from the studio walls like a runaway gargoyle
Time to let her loosen the bolts in her feet
Shake her peckery skin so all the secret radios
And all the loud silences fall out
And not to worry, the sins of governments
Can dress the body

Listen now how a small brown cry
Scatters the midday pigeons
Lifting the mask just enough
For the subtropics to consider
How lightly still each village falls
How softly each premie each Sappho
Turns into grease on the mirror

Eye Motes

His eyes were like branches underwater.

One moment the money is soft, the next it is cyan.

The sea where I stopped and you went on.

Australia is like an angry helmeted man on his back.

Water drains from her daily bath. The sound of dog nails on the floor.

Bring the steeple indoors; make two smaller ones.

Covering the porch, a new reach of the Nooksack River.

A homeless woman by the post office with her monocle.

An iron garden table in the ocean.

On the horse’s forehead, a shillelagh.

I have been writing with such a small part of my mind. I poisoned the ants good.

Antidote for honesty: a necklace made of shoulder bones.

The die back in the garden won’t wait for Easter.

On my desk: a speaker cord like an orphan pig tail, a stapler, some old mints.

A volcano’s worm casting gave us freedom.

Vodka and poems. A kiss of blind tape where the two ends meet.

I Return to Sea

Propofol is the anaesthesia of choice
For the never in line
Always waving from a red Lamborghini
Trying out their pluck and pervy sides
Naked as gum trees. If there are leftovers
You can budget for a green altar dog
And a few volcanic side and back aches
Moving back and forth like gravel trucks

Before plea bargains and steak tartar there was Zorba
He said welcome hardship. And may God save you
From the stern of a mule or the stem of a priest
Now his jersey hangs up high in the stadium rafters
And people think Kazantzakis played two guard for Memphis

Who rewound the great plains
And planted them with underworld mafia ballers?
Once I knew the joy of them in the off season
Sky and grass like endless billiard felt
I sipped it like cognac
From a divinely dripping breast

The world isn’t afraid of itself
Why be so? Better to eat VoKü in a Berlin squat
Or go with the die Geile to Sisyphos
Where the drinks cost a day’s pay
And hum with electric light foam
And the bartender leans over licks your ear
Asks how you like it
Straight up or with the needle
Pegged all the way over

Squeeze me there — that hurts badly
But at least I can feel it
Are you a two headed mastodon?
Use all four horns then!
Once I lived with a giant Chinese bulldog
In a place where peacocks roamed freely
I suspect they were really Russian Faberge moles
Code talkers buried in the prairie outback
Hatching only when you looked straight at them

Let’s play a game
You ask me if I have a twin
And I’ll ask you what kind cologne you like
When wearing only ankle bracelets
And reading poetry by bomb light
We can worry about photography
After the place closes

Is Stephen Hawking coming over tonight?
Is he bringing a pair of dice?
He knows information does come back
Across the event horizon of a black hole
But it comes in in a kind of creole
Part art, part superstition
Part Andalusian fairy tale
A recipe for writing sonnets
In imaginary numbers
Einstein wanted God to put the dice away
We all know where that got him

Tonight the wind blows in rich and famous
Keeping just enough distance
To water us all in misery—great mountains of water
Enough to drown all the big box churches at altar call
I am running my tongue around the rim of my teeth
Trying to feel my own horizon
Anaesthesia has a very long memory

When the hail starts falling like horse clams
And I feel like stuffing them down someone’s throat
As an Able Bodied Seaman and a jack Buddhist
Looking out through the bones of my desires
I know it is time to return to sea

Welcome to the container ship Blue Ball Horizon
Where we carry two of everything that fits
In a TEU or under starlight
The wages are shit but there is enough to eat
A dry bunk and time to think
We used to take a great circle route across the Atlantic
Now we take a rhumb line or farther south
To avoid the psycho storms
New York to the Med, the Gib
Between Sicily and Malta the traffic is heavy
And the VHF radio is unregulated
Starts talking trash, everybody’s a monkey or a Mario
Or it’s porn soundtracks overdubbed with Celine Dion
Then the Gulf of Aden where the pirates have RPGs and cell phones
Then down to Singapore where they love their malls
May God bless the good women at Four Floors
And keep them from the rising waters!
Then to Sri Lanka for tea and crew and zen
And back to New York to do it all over again
Poetry is my drug of choice when it’s too rough to paint
Or we are out of the good stuff
If Mae West were here you could relieve her of duty
You should come over some time

Notes: VoKü means the people’s food, die Geile are people who are very horny, and a TEU is a twenty foot equivalent unit

Rivers of Oregon

Between the ribs of Oregon’s green and gristle
   rivers do the breakable
   and pulmonary work of short stories
The Rogue river once smashed my wooden
   drift boat into fist sized chunks
The North Umpqua river swirls around hip waders
   caressingly so
Where the sun breaks into pockets
   they land on the tree-lined Tillamook river
The Pudding river seems to have nowhere to go
   until flood season when it doesn’t have to choose
The Little Nestucca joins the Nestucca river
   on its short strut to the sea
Near Sarafin point the Clatskanie river
   picks up the rain from the forest
   and threads into to the Columbia
Near Sisters the Metolius river is where surgeons from Chicago
   come to fly fish in their two hundred dollar river glasses
In the Wallowa mountains the Minam and the Wenaha
   rivers are pristine as old scarecrows
Once I saw the upper Columbia river freeze
   I listened to its blocky grind
   on my way to a funeral in Idaho
Steelhead sometimes come out of the Clackamas
   river like from a foundry
The Klamath river had dams for a while
   but now goes without
Sky barges full of water drop them
   in the Nehalem river
On Eagle creek I saw a river otter
   do a two step shuffle dance
Near its mouth the wilful Deschutes river crosses under highway 84
   obligingly but not without a hint of sadness
At nineteen I nearly drowned in the Rogue river
   on that sleepy hot afternoon
I watched the chunks of my drift boat
   wash down for days or decades
Here comes the last piece now
   I would like you to have it

American Rebel Yellow

some see the virtue of drowning
faithfully like Jonah
thighs pressed together
in the fin and rib of things
cramped where tongues bloom
muscles tense like November trees
curving downward into moist blades
with just enough left for their desires
to be strapped to the back
still singing loudly
and overhanging like cattle

they do not obey language
like an SOS from
poorly healed stitches
buried in the viscera
only a bonfire of redwood
in the oilfields
can make them look down
can make them feel
the engine entering them
with eyes like elevators
inlaid bent and perverse

all along their bottle capped horizon
wearing their shirts untucked
singing falala songs
to buzz their hard won
southbound lives
they hurry along
hoping to curate
some kind of armature
or refrigeration system
made of steam
and the better kinds
of softwood


I don’t need
their winter curse
from a time gone by
even silence
turns on its rails
staying clear
of the painters easel
so it goes the windows
of the school
the oldest of all griefs
harder than boxwood

a nectarine
and voices
clear as water
with a torn piece
leaf by leaf
woven into bluish lenses
and the gritty white ruins
of an Oklahoma prison
that held Clyde Barrow
that nobody visits

from these animal bones
children live in private gardens
laughing and naked
running with red hands

I’m guessing the solitude
shuffles where the boy
defecates in the dirt
under the porch
his bronze body
never again less
incurable than now

some are snags
bare as chalk
some conspire
to make noises among others
full of hooks and ministers
a flash of criminals

where a girl is walking
a fragrance of hips
smoothes out time
lines and ruts
cut into her school desk
far from profound
say things will remain
all the numbers and letters
stretch out beyond the heat plant
towards the winery
like copper trees at dawn

no balm in gilead
just a rollaboard suitcase
in the carousel
at the airport terminal
our secret decay
fills the gaps
in the paraphrase of faces
before words can

maybe Charles Lindbergh’s
only mistake was
he wasn’t a mistake
or Michelangelo
only a boy
carelessly bronzed
over time

New Grandchild

Baby Ellie looks like her dad.
Roughed up a bit by birth,
but insistently here
and looking out at the world
with fearless, punch drunk eyes.

Now that I am here with you people,
I’ve yet to make up my mind about, she says,
where is the food? And can a girl
get a little shut eye?